Iraqi Student Latest Victim Of Airplane Islamophobia
In the latest of a long list of Muslims being removed from commercial airlines because staff or crew are uncomfortable with how they look or speak, a 26-year-old University of California, Berkley student has described his degradation at being arrested by the FBI for speaking to his uncle in Arabic on his phone.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, whose family fled Iraq in 2002 after his father was executed by Saddam’s regime, said “Insha’Allah” during his conversation. He quickly noticed a woman staring at him.
He told the Daily Californian, “She kept staring at me and I didn’t know what was wrong. Then I realised what was happening and I just was thinking ‘I hope she’s not reporting me.’”
The woman did report him, and FBI officers subsequently told him that she claimed to have heard him say “shahid” – Arabic for “martyr”. Makhzoomi alleges that police conducted a very personal search in a public area, repeatedly asking him if he had a knife, or other luggage. He says the manner in which he was treated bought back memories of life under Saddam. “That is when I couldn’t handle it and my eyes began to water.
“The way they searched me and the dogs, the officers, people were watching me and the humiliation made me so afraid because it brought all of these memories back to me. I escaped Iraq because of the war, because of Saddam and what he did to my father. When I got home, I just slept for a few days.”
Makhzoomi had called his uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he had attended the day before – a dinner at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council with Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. He is an active member of UC Berkeley where he is part of Model United Nations and the Berkeley Political Review and currently writes for the Huffington Post. He has helped build schools in refugee camps in Jordan, and will represent Iraq at the Young Leaders Visitors Programme at the Swedish Institute – he is clear that his future lies in his country of birth.
“I want to help the situation there as best as I can, and I will begin by focusing on education,” he said. “We need to cross the bridge when it comes to our differences and try to promote tolerance and harmony among Iraqi peoples.”
Other incidents this year that have sparked accusations of Islamophobia include a woman of Somali descent being removed from a Chicago – Seattle flight after an attendant became anxious because she changed seat; an Arab-American family were removed from another Chicago plane, for a ‘safety of flight issue’ that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) a felt could be discriminatory. The multiple incidences of Muslims being removed from aircraft for tenuous reasons, has led CAIR to comment, “We are tired of more and more of these instances: of Muslims being taken off flights for flimsy reasons.”